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May 11, 2009

Nassau Restructures

*There are few relationships as fraught with tension right now as those between broadcasters and bankers. As station values have dropped in recent months, we've heard from plenty of broadcasters who'd like to be station buyers, not to mention station brokers who'd very much like to complete sales, only to be thwarted by an almost complete freeze on lending for station purchases.

Ask the bankers and venture capitalists, of course, and they'll tell you that radio is just too volatile and risky a business to be pouring money into right now...especially with station values continuing to slump.

It's not just would-be buyers affected by the credit crunch - just ask any station owner facing a big credit line that's coming due.

Our latest example is one of the region's largest station groups: Nassau Broadcasting, which has been negotiating with its biggest lenders, led by Goldman Sachs, ever since its credit came due last September just as the market began its tumble. The immediate impact on Nassau was limited - the company backed out of LMA-to-purchase deals for WFKB in the Reading, PA market and for a station in Maryland - but the long-term problems were potentially severe.

Last week, Nassau CEO Lou Mercatanti reached a deal with Goldman that will keep the company alive, but at the expense of a significant loss of control of the company, not to mention the sale of stations in NEW HAMPSHIRE and MAINE.

Here's how it plays out: the Goldman-led lender group will trade two-thirds of Nassau's outstanding debt for an 85% equity interest in the company, with Goldman taking a seat on the Nassau board of directors. That constitutes a change of control of Nassau, as far as the FCC is concerned - and that means Nassau gives up its grandfathered status in Concord and Portland, where its clusters exceed current market caps.

In Concord and the Lakes Region, Nassau will put classic hits "Frank" WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and classic rock "Hawk" WWHQ (101.5 Meredith) in a divestiture trust pending a sale, while in Portland, it's "Bone" rock simulcast WHXR (106.7 North Windham) that goes into the trust.

Meanwhile, Nassau will restructure Boston-market WCRB (99.5 Lowell) and its Cape Cod cluster into separate companies to avoid ownership-attribution issues stemming from lenders' interests in other broadcasters in those markets.

In a memo to Nassau employees, Mercatanti promised that "there are no other changes occurring
in connection with this transaction that will impact the operations of the Company," vowing that he and the rest of Nassau's management team will remain in place.

Will that promise hold in the long term? NERW readers may recall that Nassau isn't the first group owner in the region to hand over control to its lenders in recent months. The Pennsylvania-based Route 81 group went through a similar process last year, with the WallerSutton investment group taking over the company, selling some of its properties and putting its own management in control of station operations. From what NERW hears from those within (and formerly within) those stations, the results have been mixed: while the stations haven't been bleeding money, they're also reportedly being run on extremely tight budgets, leaving little room for programming growth or creativity.

Which brings us back to our opening thesis: the relationship between bankers and broadcasters is a tense one, and it's not at all clear, at least from where we sit, that Goldman Sachs is any more interested than WallerSutton in growing its new stations the way broadcasters once did.

Is Goldman really in for the long haul as a partner with Mercatanti and Nassau's management, or will it be looking to cash in on this investment sooner rather than later? As always...stay tuned.

*In other Granite State news, with the ouster of Ralphie Marino and Suzanne Lewis from morning drive at Clear Channel's WERZ (107.1 Exeter), the station has picked up the North Carolina-based Bob & Sheri morning show.

Up in the Lakes Region, New Hampshire Gospel Radio's new WANH (91.5) has been granted a change of city of license: instead of signing on as a Laconia station, it will take air as a Meredith station, with 1.7 kW/784' DA.

And in Manchester and Nashua, Red Sox fans are being forced to do some DXing to find the team on the radio. With Absolute Broadcasting's WGAM (1250 Manchester) and WGHM (900 Nashua) reportedly unable so far to strike a deal with Entercom to carry the team's games this season, flagships WRKO (680)/WEEI (850) and Concord-market WTPL (107.7) have been doing double duty as Nashua/Manchester signals for now.

*In mid-coast Maine, Blueberry's WCME (96.7 Boothbay Harbor) has changed calls to WTQX, reflecting its format change from talk to a simulcast of rocker WTOS (105.1 Skowhegan).

*In CONNECTICUT, the Clear Channel cutbacks claimed another prominent victim last week: with his contract due for renewal, WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury) PD Pete Salant is out at the Hartford/New Haven cluster, where he also oversaw sports WAVZ (1300 New Haven)/WPOP (1410 New Britain) and talk WELI (960 New Haven). After his four years at YZ, Salant is turning to new media development and focusing on his "TV for Radio" production business, creating TV spots for radio stations. You can find him at - and when you do, ask him about the rumors that 09/09/2009 will bring yet another new chapter in the long-running "Nine!" saga that Salant helped to start 35 years ago. (We know those rumors are swirling...because we've been trying very hard to start them!)

*In MASSACHUSETTS, it was radio silence from Greater Media's WTKK (96.9 Boston) and suspended talker Jay Severin last week, with Severin remaining off the air in the wake of his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants and the flu epidemic. For now, syndicated Florida-based talker Todd Schnitt is being heard in Severin's usual afternoon slot.

In Newton's Oak Hill neighborhood, the drawn-out construction saga at the WUNR (1600 Brookline) transmitter site took two more steps toward completion last week, as Clear Channel's WKOX (1200 Newton) and Beasley's WRCA (1330 Watertown) received their licenses to cover their moves to Oak Hill. That leaves just one final piece in the puzzle - the license to cover for WUNR itself, which filed for its license a little after the other two stations.

Where are they now? Former WBZ (1030) news producer Scot Cooper checked in to let us know he's now producing one of the station's leased-time weekend shows. "What's @ Risk" airs Saturday nights at 11, hosted by Mike Christian, the CEO of the Risk Strategies Company brokerage firm.

Behind the scenes, LIN Television's master-control hub at the Chicopee studios of WWLP is getting busier. Within the last few weeks, LIN has moved master-control functions for its Buffalo duopoly, CBS affiliate WIVB and CW outlet WNLO, from Indianapolis to Chicopee; now reports that the Chicopee hub is also taking over MCR duties for LIN's Norfolk, Virginia stations, NBC affiliate WAVY and Fox affiliate WVBT, which had retained a local master control until now. Switching to the Chicopee hub has already produced one on-air bonus for WIVB/WNLO: they're now carrying some syndicated programming in HD, a capability the Indianapolis hub lacked.

*Meanwhile in RHODE ISLAND TV news, we're hearing that WJAR (Channel 10) has parted ways with chief engineer Clark Smith. A regional engineer based at Media General's sister station WCMH in Ohio will reportedly be overseeing the WJAR facility.


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*It was a quiet week in NEW YORK, where some of the biggest news was the fallout from the layoffs at Clear Channel and other big broadcasters a week earlier.

On the Clear Channel side, the newly nationally-syndicated Elvis Duran morning show from New York's Z100 added two upstate "Kiss" affiliates, WKGS (106.7 Irondequoit) in the Rochester market and WKKF (102.3 Ballston Spa) in the Albany market. With the end of locally-programmed dayparts on those two signals, they've been dropped from the playlist surveys done by Mediabase, an acknowledgment that those stations - though not all the company's stations, at least not yet - have indeed become the "repeater radio" that certain bloggers have been noisily warning about for a while now.

In Buffalo, it's satellite-delivered (and delayed) Laura Ingraham replacing local and live Ron Dobson in the evenings on Entercom's WBEN (930).

The longest-running morning host in Rochester radio is retiring. Simon Pontin already had plenty of classical radio experience when he came to WXXI-FM (91.5) in 1976, having been a host and then PD at WBFB (92.5, now WBEE-FM) during its years in the format. At WXXI, Pontin quickly settled into the morning slot, making "Simon's Sunshine Show" (and its anything-goes Saturday counterpart, "Salmagundy, the show for working people") into local fixtures. Now he's becoming the most prominent WXXI staffer to take advantage of the buyouts being offered to long-serving employees as the station tries to make up for state budget cuts and a weak economy. After Pontin's last show this Saturday, WXXI's Brenda Tremblay will take over the shift as interim host.

(Usual disclaimer: your editor is a part-time newsperson down the hall at WXXI(AM); personal note: Simon's wit and humor will be dearly missed in those hallways, and we wish him all the best as he frees up his schedule for more travel and fewer 4 AM wake-up calls.)

Over at Crawford Broadcasting's Rochester stations (WLGZ 102.7/WDCX 990), five jobs were cut last week, including GM Bob Hammond, production manager Ben Martin, two salespeople and a receptionist.

On the TV front, another analog signal is history: TCT's Buffalo-market WNYB (Channel 26) turned off its analog transmitter last week, moving WNYB-DT from 27 to 26.

*On the NEW JERSEY shore, Rick Brancadora is converting his LMA of WILW (94.3 Avalon) to ownership. His WIBG, LLC is paying Coastal Broadcasting $1,475,000 for the class A signal, which Brancadora has been programming with oldies as "Wibbage" for the last month or so. Brancadora already owns WIBG (1020 Ocean City), and will presumably be putting the WIBG-FM calls on 94.3 any day now.

Not so much a "Where are they now" as a "Who's in there now?" - the former WHTZ (100.3 Newark) studios in Jersey City, renowned for their stunning view across the Hudson River into Manhattan, have new occupants. A year after Z100 decamped for Clear Channel's cluster studio on Sixth Avenue in lower Manhattan, the space on the 36th floor of 101 Hudson Street is now home to startup webcaster GOOM Radio, whose staff includes former Z100 jock Romeo.

Edited by NERW's own Scott Fybush - on sale now as an e-book or printed volume!

*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Tony Renda Jr. has exited the family business, Pittsburgh-based Renda Broadcasting - and he's coming home from Fort Myers, Florida, where he was general manager of Renda's station group. After 12 years with Renda Broadcasting, Tony Jr. says he's shifting his focus to the Velocity Radio Management firm he's been running on the side.

Across the state, the fallout from the Clear Channel layoffs brings some promotions in Allentown: Eric Chase moves up from music director to PD at WAEB-FM (104.1). Chase also takes over from Craig Russell as PD at sister station WSAN (1470), which moves former PD Craig Russell to assistant PD and "technical director" for WSAN and WAEB (790).

More "Where are they now?": Justin Bryant, last seen as PD of Citadel's WBHT in Wilkes-Barre (and before that as "KJ Bryant" in Binghamton and "Norm on the Barstool" here in Rochester), has signed on for the launch of the "WOW Radio Group," working alongside Mike Mackenzie to provide stations with a rhythmic AC format complete with air talent (including Bryant himself in afternoons), promotions, web content and more. Check them out, starting today, at

Lebanon's WOMA-LP (93.1) is changing hands: Spanish-language Radio Omega has fallen silent, and licensee Latino American Media Organization of Pennsylvania is disbanding. Calvary Chapel Lebanon is paying $18,000 for the LPFM license, and it's already running religious programming on the signal.

Penn State sports is switching outlets in Harrisburg: after several years on Clear Channel's WHP (580), Cumulus is taking over the rights in a three-year deal with syndicator Learfield. Nittany Lions football will go to WTPA (93.5 Mechanicsburg), while men's basketball relocates to WHGB (1400 Harrisburg).

*In CANADA, we can now attach a purchase price to Rogers' acquisition of the 75% of Kingston's CIKR (105.7)/CKXC (93.5) that it didn't already own. Rogers will pay just under C$8.8 million to K-Rock 1057 Inc. to buy out John Wright's 60% interest and Doug Kirk's 15% interest in the company. Wright cites poor health as a reason to sell the stations so soon after putting CKXC on the air.

In Woodstock, New Brunswick, we're hearing that CJCJ (104.1) has gone back to its old "CJ Radio" nickname after spending some time as "EZ Rock."

In Sherbrooke, Quebec, Corus has been granted a power increase at CKOY (104.5). The rock station (formerly known as CIGR until Corus took it over last year and paired it with its CKOI in Montreal) had been running 1300 watts/173 m. Now it will change transmitter sites, co-locating with Corus' CHLT-FM (107.7) and boosting power to 50 kW maximum/9.1 kW average/190.2 m DA.

Two small FM stations outside Montreal have reached a deal to extend their signals at the cost of a bit of added adjacent-channel interference. The CRTC last week approved the agreement that will boost CHAA (103.3 Longueuil) from 263 watts to 1.4 kW (maximum) DA, at the same time boosting CJLM (103.5 Joliette) from 3 kW to 4.5 kW max DA.

My Broadcasting, which continues to extend its reach across small-town southern Ontario, has added a new layer of management: D'Arcy Magee comes on board as group PD for the company's "My FM" outlets.

From the NERW Archives

(Yup, we've been doing this a long time now, and so we're digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five, ten and - where available - fifteen years ago this week, or thereabouts - the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as "New England Radio Watch," and didn't go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997. Thanks to for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

May 12, 2008 -

  • When NBC Universal changed the name of its "Television Stations Division" to the "NBC Local Media Division" last fall, the company had more in mind than just a flashy new name. With last week's announcement that its NEW YORK flagship, WNBC (Channel 4), will be spawning a 24-hour local news channel this fall, NBC made it clear that it intends to expand its local presence beyond the old "owned and operated" TV stations that were once each network's cash cows. The first sign of the reinvention of WNBC came earlier this spring, when the station rebranded its newscasts from "4HD" to "News 4 New York." In the next steps toward making WNBC a "local content center," NBC plans to rebrand its local website simply as "NBC New York," with the local news on the website and on Channel 4 soon to be joined by a 24-hour service known as "New York's Newschannel." (The "local content center" plans for WNBC's seventh-floor newsroom parallel the "content center" NBC built last year on the third floor of 30 Rock to consolidate NBC News and MSNBC operations.)
  • The new channel will be seen on a subchannel of WNBC-DT, presumably replacing what's now "4.4," a mixture of local news rebroadcasts and inexpensive syndicated fare. Eventually, it will also be visible on other platforms, including seatback TV screens in taxis and on the "NBC New York" website. It will compete with two other 24-hour newschannels with longer histories in the market: Time Warner's city-oriented New York 1 and Cablevision's collection of regional News 12 services in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Westchester, the Hudson Valley, New Jersey and Connecticut - and it will compete with those channels without adding any additional staff to the existing WNBC news team.
  • It's a big anniversary for one of PENNSYLVANIA's pioneering FM rockers. Metromedia flipped the former WIP-FM (93.3) to WMMR in 1968, and the station - now part of Greater Media's Philadelphia cluster - is marking the anniversary with a series of events that included an on-air alumni reunion this past weekend and an "MMRchives" weekend next weekend. There's also a 40th anniversary concert next Sunday starring the Stone Temple Pilots, and a commemorative CD featuring performances from the station's long history.\
  • There's a new signal on the air in northern VERMONT: Barry Lunderville has put WOTX (93.7 Lunenburg), running classic rock as "The Outlaw." WOTX's class A signal not only reaches the Northeast Kingdom, including St. Johnsbury; it also serves a chunk of northern NEW HAMPSHIRE (where its transmitter is located), including the Littleton area.

May 10, 2004 -

  • More than a decade after its construction was halted 220 feet short of its target height, the tower of WFUV (90.7 New York) will soon be dismantled, ending the nastiest battle over a radio tower in the history of NEW YORK and perhaps the nation. The New York Daily News reports that the new president of Fordham University, WFUV's owner, has reached a settlement with the New York Botanical Garden that will find WFUV moving a mile and a half to a new tower to be built atop a Gun Hill Road apartment building owned by the Montefiore Medical Center.
  • Over in Buffalo, WGR (550) began simulcasting its sports talk over WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield Township), its former rival, in the middle of last week. We still hear that the simulcast is only temporary and that a music format is on the way at 107.7. Meanwhile, former WNSA talk hosts Howard Simon and Jim Brinson returned to the airwaves at Empire Sports Network, buying time from the struggling network in Simon's former "Simon-cast" afternoon time slot.
  • Renda Broadcasting is adding another signal in PENNSYLVANIA, paying $900,000 to buy WLCY (106.3 Blairsville) from Longo Media Group. "Lucky 106" will join WDAD (1450 Indiana), WQMU (92.5 Indiana) and WCCS (1160 Homer City) in Renda's Indiana cluster.
  • RHODE ISLAND's 990 signal will soon be a sister to WXCT: Davidson Media Group, which is buying WXCT from ADD Media, is paying $2.6 million to acquire WALE (990 Greenville) from Cumbre Communications, which couldn't make a go of the signal. We listened to WALE for a bit while driving around Providence this past weekend, and whatever it's doing, it's doing it without any legal IDs... (2009 update: It was still doing it without legal IDs when we visited Providence a couple of months ago.)

May 7, 1999 -

  • The "rhythmic oldies" format has claimed a big CONNECTICUT convert this week -- but this time, Chancellor Media has nothing to do with it. CBS's WZMX (93.7 Hartford) made the switch at 10 o'clock Thursday morning, putting morning man Sebastian out on the street (literally so -- NERW hears his car was broken and he had to walk home) and taking on the moniker "Z-93.7, Dancin' Oldies." John Robbins is the new PD at the station. Across town, Buckley's more traditional oldies station, WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford), is also trying to attract the same audience by positioning itself as "Good Times, Hot Oldies."
  • Charles River Broadcasting is buying another MASSACHUSETTS radio station. The owner of WCRB (102.5 Waltham) and WFCC (107.5 Chatham) is buying WKPE-FM (104.7 Orleans) on Cape Cod from David Roth's Gramcam. Roth donated the former WKPE(AM) to UMass/Boston a few months ago. WKPE-FM will be the only Charles River station with a format other than classical music. No word yet on whether there will be operational consolidations between WKPE-FM and WFCC; given that WFCC's programming already originates from WCRB's Waltham studio, it would seem logical to move WFCC's sales staff in with WKPE at the "Radio Circle" facility just off US 6.
  • Boston University is selling the TV stations it bought from the Christian Science Monitor six years ago, and the buyer is none other than DP Media, owned by Lowell Paxson's son Devon. The price tag for WABU-TV (Channel 68 Boston), WNBU-TV (Channel 21 Concord NH), and WZBU (Channel 58 Vineyard Haven) is estimated at $40 million. Once the deal closes, WABU and its satellites will become PaxTV affiliates, replacing WBPX-TV (Channel 46) in Norwell. As for WABU's local programming and its 70 employees? Most are likely to lose their jobs as the station becomes the typical all-network Pax operation.
  • WAAF (107.3 Worcester) is moving even farther away from its city of license. A decade after leaving the downtown digs nicknamed the "Cocaine Realty Building," WAAF is abandoning its office-park facility in Westborough to move into the former WBMX studios at 116 Huntington Ave. in Boston, where sister stations WRKO, WEEI, and WQSX are located. WAAF general manager Bruce Mittman tells the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that it doesn't make sense to pay rent on two facilities, and with the open space where WBMX used to be (that station is now in the old WBOS/WSJZ Soldiers Field Rd. studios), the move was the logical thing to do. WWTM (1440) and a satellite sales office will relocate somewhere in the Worcester area within a few months. Speaking of Worcester, we heard from WWFX (100.1 Southbridge) GM Craig Della Riva, who wrote in to let us know "the Fox" is more "classic hits" than classic rock.
  • Aurora Communications is still buying in NEW YORK. Frank Osborn's new group, which bought WEBE/WICC in Connecticut last week, also plunked down $20 million to pick up WFAS AM-FM (1230/103.9) in White Plains and WZZN (106.3) in Mount Kisco late last week. Osborn's partner Frank Washington had been managing those stations.
  • It must be nice to be able to shuffle radio station formats as easily as a deck of cards -- at least, that's the only conclusion we can draw from the latest changes at Jacor in Rochester, or, more correctly, Clear Channel in Rochester (with the closing of this huge deal this week). Here's the latest on the little class A FMs that seem to have changed calls and format almost every month since Jacor took them over in early 1998: The "Kiss 107" CHR format, just starting to make a ratings dent, disappeared from 107.3 (WMAX-FM "South Bristol Township") Thursday afternoon and was replaced with a loop advising listeners to retune their radios to 106.7. That would be WKGS Irondequoit, which dropped its soft AC "Sunny 106" format last December (after just 10 months!) to begin simulcasting "Kiss." The simulcast almost made sense -- the 106.7 signal is on an apartment building at the north end of the market and serves Monroe County and nowhere else (since it's rather short-spaced to WHCD 106.9 Auburn), while the 107.3 is on a short tower in Bloomfield, 20 miles south of Rochester, and does much better in the outlying counties to the south than in the city itself. What's more, the 107.3 will eventually be sacrificed to the top of Bristol Mountain, where it won't really reach Rochester at all. (This move preserves the fiction of local service to "South Bristol Township" once Jacor's WNVE on 95.1 moves its big class B signal from Bristol Mountain down to Baker Hill, using 107.3's old city of license of Honeoye Falls, but becoming a real Rochester class B in the process.)
  • Confused yet? We're just getting started...because when the loop on 107.3 ended at 5 o'clock Friday night, what popped up was a new country station. "The Big Cow 107.3" promised its listeners two solid hours of Shania Twain, which it delivered -- by repeating the same four songs over and over. But anyone anticipating real competition for the market's only country station (Entercom's WBEE-FM) was disappointed by what happened two hours later, when WMAX-FM became "Jammin' Oldies 107.3," presumably taking on another Entercom station, oldies WBBF 98.9. Real format? Weekend stunt? Sounds like the former...but with these guys, you never know.
  • As for the listeners, they're probably getting pretty confused by now. Since last February, these 106.7 and 107.3 outlets have delivered dance-CHR (on 107.3 as "Jam'n," February-December 1998), soft AC (on 106.7 as "Sunny," February-December 1998, later shuffled off to the Canandaigua 102.3), mainstream CHR, and now rhythmic oldies -- and all without people. Yep, it's all jockless, personality-free, straight-outta-Covington, Kentucky formula programming. And the shame of it is, 106.7 used to be a creative AAA (as WMAX-FM) owned by a small regional cable company, with real people doing real radio for a real audience. 107.3 was never as local (in its original incarnation as smooth jazz WRCD), but at least it didn't flip formats and calls every six months.

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